Hands-On With Luminesca, A Beautiful Underwater Exploration Indie Game
I was taking a little look at what’s happening in the indie scene when I stumbled across a very interesting project called Luminesca, an artistic underwater exploration indie game currently in development primarily by Matt Glanville. After expressing interest in the game and having a very brief chat with the developer, he was extremely generous to give me access to the early, work-in-progress build of the game without me so much as asking for it. You can imagine that I was really grateful for it, and I enthusiastically took the opportunity to download the game and play through the content so far.
Before I get into the game, let me first extend an invitation to play this, because the good news is that placing your pre-order for the game will get you early access to alpha builds of it as well, which will get updated as new content is released. The current version of the game includes the first of five chapters, and right now the game is going for 50% off, so you can grab it for just about R40, which is absolutely worth it. The game is currently available for PC and Mac, with a Linux version coming in soon. Head on over to the official website or the game’s Desura page to place your pre-order, which I definitely recommend. You might not want to wait since the price will go up as new content is released.
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Right, for all those interested or thinking about pre-ordering the game, let’s get into what it’s about.
Luminesca is a very unique and interesting little artistic game focused on underwater exploration. In the game you play as a tiny creature called Lum, whose colony comes under threat when an ancient machine somehow starts up again and begins to consume all the surrounding water. Lum’s adventure will take him into the heart of this machine, where he will encounter a rich ecology of inhabitants and grow to learn more about the world around him. Of course right now the story isn’t really present, but that’s what we can expect from the full game. I’ve been told by the developer that there’s a lot of work still to be done on how to deliver the story in an elegant way, but I do know that he wants to avoid cutscenes as much as possible because he feels they take player control away and remove you from the game world. As such, most of the story will be revealed through the environment and by what’s happening around the player. There might be helpful tools like dialogue boxes, but Matt prefers to keep things simple and organic, so hopefully we’ll get to see more on this soon as new content is released.
The game is very simple to play and easy to get the hang of, as all you’ll need really is your mouse. While you do have the option to use WASD to swim, left click is definitely more comfortable to work with. Swimming leaves behind a trail that fades after a little while, and your first instinct will definitely be to entertain yourself by drawing shapes in the water. Apart from swimming, you also have a flashlight which you can turn on using right click, and this appears to be used to solve the game’s puzzles. In the first chapter, the puzzles are very simple, and all you have to do is guide the little yellow jellyfish-like creatures with your flashlight to red ring switches so you can progress. It was a bit too easy and short, but that was naturally to be expected from the alpha build of the very first chapter of the game. One issue I had was that the path-finding for the jelly creatures needs some work, as they often have the tendency to get stuck on obstacles, but it’s not too serious as you’ll just need to direct them carefully.
However, what I’ve played so far without a doubt has me both interested and excited for what’s to come. The experience is very flowing and strangely relaxing, and I’m pretty sure that if I find myself getting worked up in the near future, I’ll definitely turn to this game to calm me down. Luminesca just has a surprising sense of serenity about it, and I feel like perhaps its the artistic equivalent of, or at least the heather alternative to, the kill-all-the-things therapy I usually employ from games. Alright, enough rambling about my issues. One thing I particularly liked about this game was the freedom of exploration. The map is vast and you’re free to go wherever you please, within the limits of course, and solve the little puzzles in your own way. I’ve been told that chapter one is a good indication of the kind of simplicity to expect, because the game’s major focus is on exploration and discovery and not on challenging the player, so for the most part there will only be simple obstacles to overcome. Fair enough, not every game needs to challenge, and I did love just gracefully swimming around.
I was curious about the exploration element, and asked the developer if there would be an incentive to explore in the form of collectibles or secrets for instance, but I was told that the idea right now is to maintain a sense of intrigue about the game world, and that “gamey” elements like collectibles have the potential to detract from that intrigue and shift player attention to the more mechanical side of things. The vision is to create a world that is rewarding to explore on its own, filled with interesting things going on and weird creatures. Personally, that’s something I can respect, and I never really cared for achievements or collectibles in any game to date. However, I do understand that many players like these elements, but for me when I think of games like Journey or Limbo, typical gamey elements completely fell away to the intriguing game world and art direction, so Luminesca certainly seems to be on the right track. It’s definitely a game for me, because I usually appreciate this kind of vision.
I noticed that environmental hazards and creatures didn’t kill Lum, so I asked the developer about death and whether it will be something to fear in the full game. I was told that, while it was a difficult decision, the choice was made to avoid the possibility of player death because testing player skill and patience was not right for Luminesca, and would risk detracting from the important aspects like exploration and the game world by either paving way to trial and error approaches or frustration. However, I have been told that there will be threatening things in the game to create a sense of danger and hostility, but the focus will always be on immersing the player. Currently, a lot of work is going into creating interesting content as far as events, creatures and environments are concerned. In my opinion, I can definitely understand the reason for leaving death out, and I’ll wait to see how it translates in the full game because if I again look at Journey and Limbo, the former avoided the possibility of death while the latter was practically based around it and trial and error approaches, and both were near perfect games. It’s all about the execution and game design at the end of the day.
Built on the Unity engine, the game is just beautiful thanks to its gorgeous art direction. It has a very clean look, and the gentle light and dark blues, glowing whites, shiny yellows and deep blacks complement each other well, and I have to say that I absolutely love the art style in this game. It’s also really cool to see large shapes, some resembling ships or sea creatures, gliding elegantly by in the background. The game hits high points on being both cute and pretty, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the game. There’s really just everything to love about the graphics in this game. I can’t comment a great deal on the audio yet because its still early days and the current build is quite short, but I do really like the background music. It’s extremely relaxing and pretty catchy, and it’s definitely enjoyable to listen to. On the other hand the sound effects are really nicely done and quite adorable, especially with those happy worms that pop out whenever you get near. If you’re a sucker for games that are cute or have a great art direction, then this is up your alley. Being the alpha build, it has one or two visual bugs, but I didn’t encounter anything serious and on the whole it was smooth-sailing. Or swimming.
Luminesca is looking fantastic, and I’m really interested to see more based on what I’ve played and discovered so far. If beautiful art direction, extreme cuteness, or unique game experiences appeal to you, then this is exactly the title for you. You should know what kind of gamer you are after all. I’d definitely encourage you, if you’re interested, to buy this game sooner rather than later because it’s going for a really great price. Right now, I’m excited for this game, and I really enjoyed playing it.
I’d just like to close this off by extending my gratitude to Matt Glanville for giving me access to the game and for taking the time to answer my questions about it. Best of luck with the project!